The most common style of operator for residential use is the trolley operator. The motor hangs near the center of the ceiling and a rail guides the trolley across the ceiling to the top of the doorway. The trolley is attached to the door arm that is then attached to the top of the door. When the trolley traverses the rail the door opens and closes.
There are several ways to make the trolley move across the rail. Older systems include a rotating rail with a wheeled trolley that used the rotary motion of the rail (pole) to force the trolley across the distance. It was called a monkey on a pole. It was too dangerous, but it did inspire the screw drive system which the Genie Company originally marketed. The screw drive system uses a long screw that is encased in the rail. The rail guides the trolley and the screw pushes the trolley. This system opens a door slower than a chain or belt drive system, but can apply more force. This system is best used on a one piece door known as a California Door or heavy doors such as carriage house doors. The heavier the door the slower it should move for safety and longevity of the door and operator.
Most current systems have a chain loop or a steel-reinforced rubber belt that pulls the trolley across the rail. The rubber belt reduces the noise during operation.
The trolley style operator often is encumbered with obstacles (beams, pipes, etc) or it becomes an obstruction itself. For these situations, another style of operator is used: the jackshaft operator. It works only with the torsional spring type of counterbalance system. Instead of attaching to the door, the operator attaches to the spring shaft. Rotation of the shaft still allows the springs to do most of the lifting while adding the extra force to move the door. The major advantage is that this operator is mounted to the side of the door and does not require a rail.
Jackshaft operators are not as popular due to the cost of the additional hardware required to overcome the inherent security and safety issues:
Neither of these additional components is necessary with a trolley style operator.
Yet another style of opener available is one that is attached directly onto the spring shaft alongside with the torsion spring, and is located directly in the space on top of the door mounted to the wall. Such systems eliminate the rail, belts, and jackshafts, although this is a relatively new technology.
A recently introduced feature in the garage door opener market is a battery backup system. When power to the home is lost, residents are still able to get in and out of their garage. An added feature is that all opener safety features still function while the unit is operating on battery power.
The second stage of the wireless garage door opener system deals with the shared frequency problem. To rectify this, systems required a garage door owner to preset a digital code via dip switches on the receiver and transmitter. While these switches provided garage door systems with 28 = 256 different codes they were not really designed with security in mind, the main idea was to avoid interference with similar systems nearby.
The current garage door opener market uses a frequency spectrum range between 300-400 MHz and most of the transmitter/receivers rely on hopping or rolling code technology. This approach prevents perpetrators from recording a code and replaying it to open a garage door. Since the signal is supposed to be significantly different from that of any other garage door remote control, manufacturers claim it is impossible for someone other than the owner of the remote to open the garage. When the transmitter sends a code, it generates a new code using an encoder. The receiver, after receiving a correct code, uses the same encoder with the same original seed to generate a new code that it will accept in the future. Because there is a high probability that someone might accidentally push the open button while not in range and desynchronize the code, the transmitter and receiver generate look-a-head codes ahead of time.
More sophisticated features are also available, such as an integrated carbon monoxide sensor to open the door in case of the garage being flooded with exhaust fumes. Other systems allow door activation over the internet to allow home owners to open their garage door from their office for deliveries. This feature violates Underwriters Laboratories (or UL) safety codes that state the door must be in the line-of-sight of the person operating the door for safety reasons.
Another recent innovation in the garage door opener is a fingerprint-based wireless keypad. This unit attaches to the outside of the garage door on the jamb and allows users to open and close their doors with the swipe of a finger, rather than creating a personal identification number or PIN. This is especially helpful for families with children who may forget a code and are "latch-key" kids.